Go ahead. Call my son “pretty.” I don’t mind.
It happens almost every time I take Mateo out and there’s an older woman who exclaims over him. If she doesn’t immediately mistake him for a girl (which I don’t mind, either, and usually don’t bother to correct), she will say something like, “Look at those cheeks! Look at those eyes! Aren’t you so pretty — oh, I shouldn’t say ‘pretty’ for a boy. Handsome! Aren’t you so handsome!”
“It’s okay,” I say. “He is a pretty boy.”
And he is. He has dark, almond-shaped eyes heavily fringed with dark lashes so long they almost seem excessive; round, rosy cheeks; and tiny, pink bow-shaped lips. “Handsome” does not describe him. (Does it describe any baby?) He is pretty, and I, being a typical mother in my pride for my child and a flawed woman in my vanity, revel in his prettiness.
It’s a curious reality of culture that beauty is divided into masculine and feminine — and that the definitions of masculine and feminine beauty shift and change. There’s no use trying to contain these concepts within sex and gender, however, and I want to teach my son that traits that are traditionally considered feminine are not shameful or demeaning for a boy to possess.
“Pretty” is where we can start. I can work my way in from skin-deep.